Commentary

Down 0-1, Pistons find themselves in East finals slump

Originally Published: May 22, 2008
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

Richard Hamilton Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesRichard Hamilton can't mask his disappointment as the Pistons dropped Game 1 against the Celtics.
BOSTON -- It has been so long since the Detroit Pistons missed the conference finals that a little bit of a contemporary history lesson is in order. Memories being what they are, we'll make it easy on you and go with a true/false quiz:

The last time the Pistons failed to reach the conference finals was in 2001-02, when:

True or False: They had only two players appear in all 82 regular-season games. One is now working as an ESPN commentator; the other is still with the team, but wearing a suit and tie to every game.

Answer: True. The players were Jon Barry and Michael Curry.

True or False: They lost in the second round to a team in green that had decided earlier that season it would be a good idea to trade Joe Johnson to Phoenix for Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers.

Answer: True. (Sorry to bring up that old reminder of JJ, Celtics fans.)

True or False: They were only one year removed from the end of the coaching era of one George Irvine, who had been replaced the previous offseason by Rick Carlisle.

Answer: True. (And Carlisle, by the way, is about to be reunited in Dallas with the leading scorer from the 2001-02 Pistons, Jerry Stackhouse.)

True or False: They were led in free-throw shooting by Ratko Varda and Brian Cardinal, and got 69 3-pointers out of Damon Jones.

Answer: True. (That roster also included Mikki Moore, Victor Alexander and Dana Barros.)

Also notable, from a Pistons standpoint, was that the NBA title was won that season by a Los Angeles Lakers squad that included a current member of the Pistons, Lindsey Hunter.

Almost makes you feel old, eh?

Well, it's just that the Pistons have been a fixture in the late-May NBA equation for so long. But while they've made it to the conference finals six consecutive times, they have only one championship trophy to show for it.

[+] EnlargeChauncey Billups
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesBad hammy or not, Chauncey Billups hasn't had a big-time performance in the East finals since 2006.

What's more, they're carrying some losers' baggage -- at least in this round -- that is becoming hard to ignore.

"We're a better team than that," Richard Hamilton, who was a member of the Washington Wizards in 2001-02, said Tuesday as Detroit sorted out its 88-79 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 1. "They kind of hit us first, and we're the type of team that wants to hit first, and we've been like that for the last three years. We've just got to do a better job coming out of the gate."

A couple of things to consider going into Thursday night's Game 2

• In their current run of six straight trips to the conference finals, the Pistons have trailed 0-2 only once.

• They haven't opened a conference finals on the road since 2005, when they actually won the opener (in Miami), lost three of the next four, then won the final two and went on to the Finals.

• Last year, they were ahead of Cleveland 2-0, then went on to lose their next four. That puts them on a five-game Eastern Conference finals losing streak, and a seven-game road losing streak when you include losses in Games 3, 4 and 6 against Miami in 2006.

• They have to try to end those streaks against a Boston Celtics team that has gone 9-0 at home in this year's playoffs.

Chauncey Billups failed to assert himself in Game 1, scoring just nine points and taking only six shots in 31 minutes as he played his first game in 13 days after injuring his hamstring in Game 3 of the second round at Orlando. By making only three field goals in Game 1, it marked the ninth consecutive Eastern Conference finals game in which Billups failed to make more than six shots. (You have to go all the way back to Game 3 of the 2006 Eastern Conference finals to find Billups' last breakout game -- 31 points on 11-for-17 shooting.)

Rasheed Wallace shot only 3-for-12 in Game 1 matched against Kevin Garnett, who led the Celtics with 26 points. In his past five Eastern Conference finals games -- four losses to the Cavs, one to the Celtics -- Wallace is averaging just 12.8 points and shooting 21-for-60 (35 percent). And let's also not forget that he wouldn't have been allowed to play in Game 7 of last year's conference finals after he was ejected in Game 6 at Cleveland, putting himself over the postseason technical-foul limit that brings with it an automatic one-game suspension.

"This is the game, Game 2, I've always thought is the game for the home team that is a danger game because of that false sense of security," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Wednesday. "We have to come out with a great intensity [Thursday]. Detroit will be better [Thursday]. Chauncey Billups will be better [Thursday], so will Rasheed, and we have to be ready for that, but we can be better, as well."

Another loss Thursday night, and a case can be made that the Pistons' window of opportunity is closing fast.

Then again, this is a team that has been hanging its hat on its resiliency for the better part of this decade. Sometimes the Pistons have been able to summon it, sometimes they haven't.

But again, they've never been down 2-0 in a conference finals, so that would be unexplored territory.

Just something to keep in mind in case this one gets away from Detroit on Thursday night.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.